LePage says he’s moving ahead with new psych unit with or without legislative backing

Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that his administration will continue to look for a location for a state-run psychiatric unit outside Augusta despite a meeting last week that House Speaker Sara Gideon said produced progress toward a compromise.

The prospect of building a step-down facility for state-held forensic patients — such as those who are hospitalized after being found not guilty of crimes or deemed unfit for trial because of acute psychiatric problems — has been a source of controversy in recent weeks. The LePage administration proposed building it next to the state-run Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta but Gideon and other Democratic legislative leaders blocked that plan in a partisan vote amid complaints that the proposal has not been brought to the Legislature for vetting.

While Democrats say they want to ensure the plan leads to proper care of patients in the wake of mismanagement that cost Riverview its federal accreditation, LePage has countered that they are playing politics merely to rob his administration of a positive development. A major sticking point for Democrats is that LePage intends to hire a private company to run the facility. They also have questions about how the project will be financed.

After the previous Legislative Council’s initial vote against the project on Nov. 30, House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport, tried to bring the issue up again last week at a meeting of the new Legislature’s leadership council. But Fredette’s latest bid was blocked by Gideon, who said the item was not on the agenda and would be dealt with by legislative committees that convene in January.

She and LePage then met Friday to discuss the matter, with Gideon emerging from that meeting to say she believed a path to compromise had been established.

But LePage said Tuesday during his weekly chat in WVOM radio that his administration continues to look at locations for the facility outside the Capitol Area, where building projects require approval by the Legislative Council under part of an arcane set of rules that LePage says has largely been ignored in recent years. Under consideration are a parcel of land in Freeport as well as two existing buildings in Brunswick, one in Augusta and one in Bangor, the governor said Tuesday.

“We’re looking for a building right now. I’m not fighting with them anymore,” said LePage. “You go down your path and I’ll go down my path and whoever gets to the finish line wins.”

LePage accused lawmakers, again, of politicking.

“To me that was a shot across the bow,” said LePage of Democrats’ resistance to the plan. “I don’t know what they’re doing and I don’t care.”

That’s at odds with a statement from LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett last week, who said “he’s happy to have the Democrats work alongside him if they choose to.”

We haven’t heard the last of this issue by a longshot. 

In other matters addressed Tuesday on the radio, LePage again said that voters’ decisions to raise Maine’s minimum wage and to add a surtax on income over $200,000 to increase state aid to education would harm the state’s economy. He said he would include in his two-year budget proposal that’s due in January a set of plans to alter implementation of those citizen-initiated measures. He also reiterated past statements that the surtax is causing doctors to leave the state or close their practices and that it is discouraging other medical professionals from moving here. — Christopher Cousins

Susan Collins for president in 2020?

There has been loads of speculation about what’s next for Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins if she ever chooses to abandon her Senate seat. As Maine’s most popular and highest-ranking elected official, she could probably choose her own path and count on voters to back her up for, say, a run for governor.

But how about the White House? On Monday, the New Yorker included Collins on a list of 13 women who the magazine says should consider a presidential run in 2020. The article notes that Collins did not endorse President-elect Donald Trump and could be a candidate who attracts support from the more moderate wing of the Republican Party. Collins has stayed focused on her work as Maine’s senior U.S. senator and dismissed chatter about her future political plans.

Still four years from the next presidential election, Public Policy Polling is already asking Democrats what sort of person should be the party’s next presidential candidate. New poll results released today found on one hand that a majority Democrats want a candidate who is younger than 60 years old but on the other hand, their top three candidates are Vice President Joe Biden, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

None of those candidates fits the “younger than 60” profile. It seems, at least based on this poll, that Democrats are confused. Following last month’s election, that comes as little surprise. — Christopher Cousins

Quick hit

Mitchell to Morocco: Former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell of Maine will travel to Morocco next May to top off a University of New England lecture series at his campus in Tangier, Morocco. The Tangier Global Forum monthly lecture series, which focuses on major issues facing the global community, begins on Jan. 19, 2017 and will will be live-streamed on the internet. Click here for more information.

Reading list

Surviving winter: You versus your pets

With temperatures outside on the cusp of a plunge, the Maine Emergency Management Agency reminds us today that our cats and dogs aren’t immune from winter weather.

“Your dogs and cats may have fur coats, but they are not thick enough to withstand below-zero temperatures,” says MEMA in today’s Daily Preparedness Tips, which you can sign up for by clicking here. “Older pets will have more trouble with creaky joints and may slip on patches of ice.”

My cat, whose fur is supplemented by a thick layer of flab, will make it through winter just fine thanks to his favorite location: Sleeping under the woodstove. Some of my human friends, not so much. I’ve heard that a dedicated Daily Brief reader — a champion cat lover — is in her third week of battling a cold and might need something to warm her spirits. Here’s her soundtrack. — Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.